Sept. 25, 2003, 1:02PM
Opponents organize against Metro's
By LUCAS WALL
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
The campaign over Metro's Nov. 4 transit-expansion referendum
heated up this morning with the announcement of a well-funded
The group, Texans for True Mobility, is the first opposition
group to emerge with a paid staff and plans to launch advertising
countering the Metropolitan Transit Authority's promotion
of light rail. A 73-mile rail system by 2025, with a $640
million bond issue to accelerate construction of the next
22 miles, is the centerpiece of the "Metro Solutions"
transit plan voters will decide on in November.
Developer Michael Stevens and John Butler, a member of Metro's
original board of directors, are chairing the campaign. They
held a news conference at the Hyatt Regency Houston, directly
across from Metro's Louisiana Street headquarters, to launch
their pitch that the Metro Solutions plan "costs too
much, does too little." Speakers attacked the light rail
portion of the proposal, arguing it will not ease the region's
mobility woes and will carry only a fraction of future travelers.
"Our long term objectives are cost-effective congestion
reduction," Stevens said. "We are not against all
rail but we oppose the Metro Solutions plan because of the
rail component, which will not reduce congestion."
The group's news conference this morning follows mayoral
candidate Orlando Sanchez's announcement Wednesday that he
opposes the Metro plan. The other two major Houston mayoral
candidates, Sylvester Turner and Bill White, have endorsed
Texans for True Mobility's advisory committee is made up
of numerous Republicans including U.S. Rep. John Culberson
of Houston, four state senators, nine state representatives,
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, District
Clerk Charles Bacarisse, and Harris County Republican Party
Chairman Jared Woodfil. Butler's wife, Penny, is Sanchez's
campaign treasurer and also serves on the advisory committee.
There is a partisan difference in how voters view Metro's
transit plan, a recent Houston Chronicle/KHOU-Channel 11 poll
found, with Republicans the most skeptical, but still slightly
in favor. The survey found 56 percent of Democrats questioned
support Metro's referendum while 12 percent oppose it. Republicans,
on the other hand, had only 37 percent support for transit
expansion with 33 percent opposed. Among independents, 48
percent said they supported Metro's proposition while 16 percent
were opposed. Roughly one-third of voters in each category
Rail opponents point out this poll was conducted before today's
launch of their campaign against the referendum and they expect
the numbers will shift when anti-Metro advertisements start
airing and voters better understand the facts.
"This plan is way too costly," said John Butler.
"It doesn't have any effect on reducing congestion in
the region. It's been sold out of context."
Stevens said the group will advocate for other transportation
solutions that will cut congestion in half by 2025, the goal
of the "100 percent plan" being drafted by the Houston-Galveston
Area Council. More highways are needed to serve the vast majority
of commuters and freight who move around by automobile and
truck, Stevens said, and other initiatives such as grade separations
and additional commuter bus service should also be considered
in lieu of rail.
"We will support plans that will reduce congestion,
that will be cost effective," he said. "Metro's
plan only addresses the downtown area. It's not for suburb-to-suburb
trips -- the places people live to the places people work."
Texans for True Mobility said Houston must learn from its
rival city to the north, Dallas, which built light rail in
1996 but carries less passengers on mass transit than Metro
does today with its bus system. Dallas Area Rapid Transit
is now running short on money, rail opponents, and has requested
Voters must reject this referendum, the group said, so Metro
can come back next year with a better plan that will use its
sales-tax revenues for projects that will help relief traffic
problems. Stevens said rail can be part of those plans only
if it's proven a line will take a significant number of cars
off the highways and reduce travel time.
Citizens for Public Transportation, the political action
committee campaigning for passage of Metro Solutions, plans
an afternoon news conference to respond to the arguments the
opponents made this morning.